Review Summary: A bittersweet reminder of a distant, more promising past
“Girls Like You” has a decent shot at being the worst song of the entire 2010s. It’s the sound of a band completely giving up at any chance of credibility. It’s the sound of Adam Levine finally dwarfing the rest of the band entirely, which I suppose was a long time coming by this point. But more tragically, it’s the sound of a band who simply has nothing to offer anymore. There’s no energy or personality, something I couldn’t say for even some of the most popular hits to date by the band. It’s just a limp-dicked ballad that relies on Cardi B’s feature to carry it, and it’s likely to be gone from the popular consciousness at large in a few years’ time. But, as many people have stated, the band weren’t always this way. So join me as I add yet another layer on top of this “hey, remember when Maroon 5 was actually good?” pile that seems to get larger and larger every year.
Except, let’s go a bit further than that. In fact, Songs About Jane
is actually one of my favorite pop and alternative rock albums of the 2000s so far. The infectious melodies, the funky guitar lines, Levine’s soulful wails and entertaining histrionics, the rock-solid rhythm section, and most importantly, the impeccably tight songwriting… everything’s in place for a modern classic, as far as I’m concerned. But let’s be honest with ourselves here and admit that this version of the band isn’t all that different from the Maroon 5 we know today. Yes, there’s more rock. Yes, the music sounds more passionately put together. Yes. Levine plays some guitar solos. But this is a pop rock record through and through, and that’s the exact same umbrella their newer material falls under. In fact, if you want something really
different from the band’s current output, listen to the band’s previous incarnation Kara’s Flowers who - I shit you not - put out a grunge album in the mid-90s. So, I’ve established that Songs About Jane
is at least comparable to the band’s new work; what makes it different? A few things.
The first thing is that Songs About Jane
is an egalitarian effort. Maroon 5 wasn’t always the “Adam Levine Show,” and it really shows here. The other members, especially keyboardist Jesse Carmichael and guitarist James Valentine get a lot more of the spotlight here to show their chops. I don’t think songs like “Sunday Morning” or “The Sun” would be nearly as great as they are without Carmichael’s unique blend of rock, blues, and jazz complimenting their laid-back grooves. Likewise, the mega-hit “This Love” pretty much lives and dies by the way his bouncy piano chords and Valentine’s funky guitar playing interact and blend together. This is in sharp contrast to the band’s last few albums, in which they might has well not have been credited with any of the instrumental performances at all. The other members - bassist Mickey Madden and former drummer Ryan Dusick - aren’t quite as memorable, but they at least get the job done and add enough personality to stand out once in a while. I have to admit, I was pretty surprised when I first heard that badass drum fill at the beginning of “Harder to Breathe.”
But let’s get down to the most important thing: the fact that Adam Levine actually gave a shit
during this era. He and Jesse Carmichael are the main songwriters on Songs About Jane
, and their collaborative efforts have led to many of the best pop songs of this century thus far. “Harder to Breathe” is a strikingly intense, hard-hitting number that combines the drama of relationship troubles with a heavy guitar riff that Valentine cranks out with razor-like precision. “This Love” swings effortlessly between melancholic verses and soaring choruses as Adam Levine laments the tolls of love and sexual tension with tact and grace. And of course, do I need to even bring up “Sunday Morning?” The song has become legendary - even among people who don’t normally listen to the band - for its lovely mixture of blue-eyed soul and jazz fusion, as well as some of the most positive vibes on the album. Or perhaps you want to enjoy some deep cuts? This album has you covered there too; check out the subtle ebbs and flows of the eerie ballad “Secret”; or you can listen to the strange blend of funk and Middle-Eastern vibes that “Shiver” brings out; finally, there’s the hard rock of “Through With You,” which follows up the sound of the opener with more fantastic alt-rock riffage courtesy of James Valentine.
Perhaps my points about Songs About Jane
are like preaching in an echo chamber, but everytime Maroon 5 releases a new pointless, boring piece of shit, I always feel it necessary to reiterate just how good they once were when they tried. In any case, I feel safe in regarding this as an absolute classic of both pop and modern rock music; it’s such a solid release, and - as quite a rarity in pop music - there’s not really a song that can be considered a “filler track,” perhaps save for the weird live track near the end. If you meet anyone who dislikes Maroon 5’s new material but hasn’t heard their other stuff, show them Songs About Jane
and The Fourth World
and let them know what they’ve been missing out on.